Many histories of Henderson County found in books, newspaper articles, and on numerous Web sites continue to state erroneous information and facts on early pioneer settler William Mills.
The following quotes were found on some of these sites:
“Hendersonville was a rich, rolling uninhabited Cherokee hunting ground before Revolutionary War soldier William Mills ‘discovered’ it in the late 1780s.”
“In the late 1700s, Revolutionary War soldier William Mills settled Henderson County.”
“Although it was officially ‘discovered’ in the 1780s by Revolutionary War soldier William Mills, it seems that only recently did Americans discover the wonder of Hendersonville.”
William Mills, who bought land and entered the county in 1785, the same year as several other local pioneer families, did fight in the Revolutionary War. He was a Tory, fighting alongside the British.
He definitely was not the first settler into today’s Henderson County.
“Unless you count hiding in a cave from the Patriots, how was he the first settler?” said George Jones with the Henderson County Genealogical and Historical Society.
Even if the cave incident is used as the date, other people came through the area and settled in the area prior to Mills, hunting, trapping, fishing and trading with the Cherokee. During the Revolutionary War, military expeditions came through the county in campaigns against the Cherokee.
And the boundary line with the Cherokee was not visible to pioneers. Families settling along the Green River in today’s Polk County, then old Rutherford County, frequently found themselves on the wrong side of the “line.”
The first recorded deed for William Mills in today’s Henderson County was 1785 in the Edneyville community.
Several persons have recorded land deeds prior to Mills. Visit http://hendersonheritage.com/examples-of-early-land-grants-deeds/
According to historical and land records, Ambrose Mills, the father of William Mills, bought a tract of land in 1770 containing 640 acres in Old Tryon County (today’s Polk County) from Thomas Reynolds for 100 pounds. The land was on both sides of the Green River. There was a cabin on the property called “Powell’s cabin.”
Mills established a trading post and sawmill by a spring.
During the Revolutionary War, Ambrose Mills was a colonel with the British forces and commander of Tory cavalry at the Battle of Kings Mountain on Oct. 7, 1780. He was captured by Patriots and taken to a field on Biggerstaff’s farm in Rutherford County, where he was hung Oct. 14, 1780. He was also accused and found guilty of inciting the Cherokee to attack the frontier settlements.
William Mills was commissioned a major in the Tory militia. At the Battle of Kings Mountain, he was wounded by a bullet and slashed by a saber. He managed to escape, and fled to land near his home, where he hid in a cave on Sugarloaf Mountain.
After his wounds healed, he hiked a few miles down the mountain to his home, where he learned all the land belonging to him and his father had been confiscated.
He then fought as a Tory in the Battle of Cowpens.
After the war, he took the oath of allegiance to the new nation and regained part of his land and two-thirds of his father’s land. His half-siblings and stepmother received one-third of his father’s land.
William Mills was the son of Ambrose and his first wife, Mourning Stone, who was killed by Indians about 1755 at Pinetree Hill in Camden County, S.C.
Mills lived in the Fruitland and Edneyville section of the county along today’s South Mills Gap Road. He owned thousands of acres of land in the Fruitland, Edneyville, Clear Creek and Mills River communities. He was a land speculator, selling and buying land.
Mills died in 1834. The following is an obituary published at the time of his death:
“William Mills, son of Ambrose and Mourning Mills, immigrants to the U.S. from England; born on James River, Va., Nov. 19, 1746, moved to Wateree, S.C., where in 1763 he married Eleanor Morris; later moved to Green River, Rutherford County (Polk County); a participant at King’s Mountain, Cowpens and Ninety-Six; the first white man to cross the Blue Ridge into what is now Henderson County; moved to Buncombe County in 1788; died Nov. 10, 1834.”
Note that the obituary fails to mention that he was a Tory participant in the battles, and he definitely was not the “first white man to cross the Blue Ridge into what is now Henderson County.”
The William Mills Cemetery is off U.S. 64 East and South Mills Gap Road. It contains the graves of Mills, his wife, Eleanor Morris Mills; his daughter and her husband, Mourning Mills Lewis and Henry C. Lewis; and other descendants, including several Edney descendants.
There are also several unmarked field stones at the lower end that mark the graves of some of the Mills’ slaves.
During Hurricane Ivan a tree fell and broke a fence that surrounded the cemetery.
A sign built by an Eagle Scout with Boy Scout Troop 605 was also knocked down by the tree. The grass and weeds inside the cemetery were knee high.
Several times during the past years Boy Scouts and neighbors have cleaned the cemetery. During one cleaning by a neighbor bleach was used on the head stones. As a result, the carved inscriptions disappeared. Harsh abrasives, bleach and other detergents should never be used to clean head stones. The cemetery was mapped prior to this incident, so records are available as to which grave is that of William Mills, his wife, and other descendants.
The cemetery is about .18 acre. Private property must be crossed to reach the cemetery. One side is bordered by a recent housing development. Wayne Owenby owns land bordering three sides.
Old deeds define land being sold by the boundaries of the cemetery.
“The grantors reserve the right of ingress and egress to the graveyard along the old road now in existence,” states a March 6, 1946, deed.
The cemetery is on the county’s GIS system.